The NHLPA has blocked the much-discussed realignment plan that would have shifted the NHL from six divisions to four conferences. The plan was approved by the board of governors but it will not go ahead next season because the players’ union has blocked it.
“On the evening of December 5, 2011, the NHL informed the NHLPA that they proposed to put in place a four-conference format beginning with the 2012-13 season,” union head Donald Fehr said in a detailed statement. “As realignment affects players’ terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the League to obtain the NHLPA’s consent before implementation. Over the last month, we have had several discussions with the League and extensive dialogue with players, most recently on an Executive Board conference call on Jan. 1. Two substantial player concerns emerged: (1) whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel; and (2) the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.”
“In order to evaluate the effect on travel of the proposed new structure, we requested a draft or sample 2012-13 schedule, showing travel per team. We were advised it was not possible for the league to do that. We also suggested reaching an agreement on scheduling conditions to somewhat alleviate player travel concerns [e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.], but the league did not want to enter into such a dialogue. The travel estimation data we received from the league indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult. On the playoff qualification matter, we suggested discussing ways to eliminate the inherent differences in the proposed realignment, but the League was not willing to do so,” continues the statement.
Short form: any realignment scheme requires NHLPA consent because any realignment scheme impacts the players’ employment conditions. The NHLPA discussed the matter with the league and with players and heard concerns from some players over travel and over the playoff picture. The NHLPA attempted to address the travel issue by asking for a sample schedule, but the NHL didn’t provide it. The league also apparently rejected a discussion about the travel issue. The NHLPA, after analyzing “travel estimation data,” determined that many Pacific and Central teams could face an even tougher travel schedule.
According to the union, the league was also unwilling to discuss the playoff picture.
“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a plan that an overwhelming majority of our clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including players,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
To dismiss the union’s concerns over travel and the post-season seems more than reasonable to me. What does seem unreasonable is for the league to not provide adequate data for analysis.
Along with Daly’s dismissal of the union’s concerns came a threat: ”We believe the union acted unreasonably in violation of the league’s rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”
There are some markets, like Winnipeg, that certainly benefit from realignment. They will face another travel-heavy year in the Southeast Division. Jets co-owner Mark Chipman is set to make an announcement on the rejected realignment at a news conference on Saturday, however.
It’s safe to say that this issue is far from dead, especially with Daly’s rather confrontational remarks on the table. With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire in September of this year, it’ll be interesting to see how this issue impacts things going forward.